New composite material strengthens aicraft structures

Woven shape memory alloy

Shape memory alloy and carbon fibre composite material provides additional strength with reduced mass for protection against bird and debris strikes.

QinetiQ unveiled a new material at Farnborough International Airshow that could make aircraft structures three times more resistant to impacts such as bird and drone strikes.

The material comprises high-energy absorbing titanium alloy wires, known as Shape Memory Alloy (SMA), woven into a carbon fibre reinforced polymer.

QinetiQ carried out tests simulating collisions with an aircraft’s leading edges, such as the nose and wings, which showed a threefold increase in strength compared to normal carbon fibre of the same mass.

Tests conducted in collaboration with GE Aviation and the National Composites Centre (NCC) have shown similar potential for protecting against burst tyres and other debris that can be thrown up into the underside of an aircraft from a runway.

Statistics published by the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reveal an average of over 10,000 bird strikes per year since 2009, with the number rising each consecutive year. An aircraft can be struck by lightning up to twice a year and runway debris can cause tyres to burst and impact critical aircraft components. Such damage costs the industry billions each year and, in the very worst cases, can lead to loss of life.

Andrew Foreman, Head of Engineering Research & Consultancy at QinetiQ, said: “Most existing safety measures require extra material to be added to vulnerable areas, adding mass and compromising the aircraft’s efficiency. QinetiQ’s patented composite would enable operators to meet or exceed the same high regulatory standards without adding mass. A lighter aircraft uses less fuel, providing opportunities for lower emissions, higher airline profits and reduced fares for travellers.

“QinetiQ’s heritage lies in Farnborough’s Royal Aircraft Establishment, which revolutionised composite materials technology with the invention of carbon fibre in 1963. We are proud to continue that legacy, using cutting-edge innovation to maximise safety and efficiency for our customers in the aviation industry.”

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